April 11, 2007
It should come as good news that in 2005 the teenage birth rate in the United States dropped to a 65-year low. Who’s behind ameliorating the problem? Champions of comprehensive sex education and abstinence-only advocates both claim credit for the findings in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics report.
Let’s posit this scenario: You’re 16. You buy a soda and a pack of condoms at the corner store. That afternoon you have sex. You know how to put on the condom because you were taught in your public high school. Anyway, the condom is just a backup. Your girlfriend is on the pill. Some people say your education has encouraged you to take a life-threatening health risk.
Here’s an alternative scenario: You’re the federal government. You’ve thrown over a billion dollars into abstinence-only-until-marriage education. In a decade, you’ve transformed sex education in many states. Your message? There is no such thing as safe sex. Is your plan working? Your opponents say you’re better off throwing your money down a wishing well.
According to Bill Albert, deputy director at the National Campaign to End Teen Pregnancy, “both ‘sides’ should declare victory.”
“The short answer is quite simple: both less sex and more contraception,” he wrote in an email. “Researchers disagree about the relative contribution of each to the overall declines in teen pregnancy, but all agree that it is some combination of less sexual activity and greater contraceptive use.”
Information equals safe sex
Monica Rodriguez, vice president of education and training at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, says that the birth rate is down mostly because of an increase in the consistent use of improved hormonal birth control methods, like the pill, the patch, the shot and the implant. Her claims are supported by the widely read report released in late 2006 that found that 86 percent of the decline in pregnancy risk can be attributed to improved contraceptive use and that 14 percent of the decline can be attributed to teens waiting longer to start having sex.